EMILY, age 29

Growing up in a predominately white town, as a white female, I was never really challenged around my ideas of race or the ideas about race that other people were teaching me. I didn't understand the extent at which people were still suffering here in this country because of their race. We never learned history through any other perspective besides what the people in power wanted us to think. Being a white person, I didn't think to challenge it too much.

Although, I have clear memories since I was young questioning the areas of race and what it meant to humanity, I was completely blind to both the inequality of peoples due to race in present day and of my own white privilege.

When I moved to Oakland at age 19, I didn't feel like I fit in at all, but also I knew I could never go back. I didn't want to believe how bad racism really is and instead of just listening, I did as most white people do who don't understand racism, because they have never had to, I tried to deny it or compartmentalize it. But the more I learned, the more I started to listen, and the more I started to listen the more I started to be aware of the current issues surrounding race.

Yes, I identify as a white person, because of the color of my skin and the privilege I have been allotted because of it, but do I identify with "white people" as a whole? No. In fact, I have a short tolerance with the particular kind of ignorance that comes with most white people in America. Maybe this short tolerance is only because it's a mirror into my own ignorance, I don't know. Or maybe it's because I see how destructive and even deadly white ignorance can be.

From the first moments of being uncomfortable in my own skin, it has since been a learning experience, and it always will be; although these days, it's not about being uncomfortable, it's about continuing to learn, because I will be ignorant till the day I die. I think this goes for all humans, not just white people, although it's imperative that white people stay open and explore the things about race and privilege that may make them feel uncomfortable.

Although race is not a big part of the conscious lives of most white people, it is for me. I think about it everyday. I choose to be around people who are aware of the inequalities we currently face as a society and who want to see a difference. Privilege is a hard concept for people to wrap their heads around, no matter what race or class, because it's so arbitrary, in the way that we are born into it.

The thing is, a lot of times, people receiving privilege don't see it, and sometimes when they do, they run. This is the kind of person I don't have much tolerance for, but I understand, at the same time, it is important to have tolerance for every one and their story, because we are all part of the set-up. Rich, poor, brown skin tone, white skin tone, educated, uneducated, etc. No matter how the world labels us, people in power have always tried to keep us separated. This is one of the most painful aspects of human life.

If I had advice for white people (because I wouldn't be comfortable giving advice to people of races other than my own on a topic as deep as identity) it would be to choose to have race be a part of your life, consciously. The fact is, it's a part of every human's life, but white people have the privilege to avoid it if they want. Don't. It might be uncomfortable, or bring up things you don't want to look at, but look at it anyway. For white people it's a choice, for people of brown skin tones, looking at the effects of race is not always a choice, it's real life.

In a perfect world, I would not identify with a race, because I truly believe, like many of us, that we are all the same and it is only society which separates us. Humanity is much more important to me than any sort of identification we have with race. But because this world is not perfect, and people have gained or suffered for centuries due to race, I identify as a white woman. Power, greed, and history has chosen this identification for me and I choose to acknowledge it.




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